A safer ride to school in the UAE

When parents send their children to school in the morning, they should trust that they will be taken care of aboard school buses. Federal regulations help but so will parental involvement.

Parents entrust their most precious of possessions - their children - to schools each day and particularly when they put them aboard buses. Last week's arrest of three men charged with the rape of a four-year-old girl aboard a school bus has fundamentally shaken the confidence of parents.

The pain of the crime is weighty enough; the fact that it could have been prevented makes it all the more burdensome. None of those charged in the incident - a bus driver, a cleaner and an attendant at a private school in Nad al Sheba - underwent a background check before they were hired.

In response to this and other cases, Dubai Police have established a unit to investigate child sex abuse cases. "The recent rape case of this girl highlights the importance of establishing a specialised unit for such cases due to their sensitive nature," said Maj Gen al Mazeina, the deputy head of Dubai Police.But establishing a unit to investigate a crime should only be one part of a larger effort to ensure the safety of children. A policy that is based on preventing crimes can do far more. All adults charged with the supervision of children in schools should be registered beforehand by a central authority and their background vetted. Last April, the Ministry of Interior confirmed that new laws were being drafted to protect children from abuses, including the development of a new sex offenders' registry. But that has yet to materialise, as The National reports today.

Since school systems recruit from many different countries with many different legal systems, background checks will prove less effective here than in countries with a more homogenous workforce.

To prevent further incidents, that school has installed cameras in all its buses and female attendants will be on hand to supervise the students. The UAE should look to making these safeguards nation-wide. Parents too must play a critical role in protecting their children. A system where parents rotate as monitors on board the buses would provide a safer environment and demonstrate that the commitment to protecting children must be shared.

Discussing sexual abuse also remains a taboo in our society, but that should not prevent parents, schools and the authorities from doing their utmost to stop it from happening. "Keeping quiet is a crime in itself, and people should report them regardless of the conservative nature of the society," Maj Gen al Mazeina said. "Not doing so means the perpetrators can repeat their offences or escape justice."